My Partner Moving Abroad Was the Best Thing to Happen to our Relationship
In May Jeremy got the job in Himeji, Japan. In August, if everything went as planned, he would be boarding a plane and traveling 5,978 miles from where we stood on our apartment doorstep in Arizona.
We celebrated with wine and good food. He marveled at the prospect of living in a foreign country. I was brimming with pride: my partner was going to teach abroad. I had encouraged him to submit his application and driven him to his interview at City Hall in downtown Phoenix. We picked out a suit together—sharp, refined grey—and took pictures of him in front of our home. We pored over Google Maps to get a glimpse of Himeji’s downtown. We kissed and hugged and he called his parents with the news. What had previously been entertained as a possibility was now a definitive reality.
Just as wine’s effect slowly transitions from silliness to drowsiness, I began to feel my initial excitement become a tide of panic rising within me. As we settled in for the night my thoughts began to race: the person who I had loved for the past four years would be getting on that plane without me. Selfishly, I wondered what it would be like to be left behind. “A year isn’t that long, I promise,” he reassured me.
Friends asked, “Are you going to stay together?” and “Why don’t you just go with him?” The truth was, I had considered what it would be like to break up, or to leave almost everything familiar behind to follow Jeremy across the globe. To some, these were the only options, but both of them felt wrong in ways I couldn’t completely describe. Of course we were going to stay together, but the thought of wandering aimlessly, not speaking a word of Japanese, while Jeremy worked made my stomach turn.
What I hadn't wanted to admit was that we become like a stagnant pond, living an easy, routine life in a small northern Arizona town. It wasn’t bad, but it was decidedly boring; we both had jobs we weren’t passionate about and our town began to feel oppressively small, offering a complete lack of anonymity. The relationship was comfortable, as it always had been, but I sensed a lull. I longed for a creative spark and I knew he felt the same, that we were too young to settle for this lifestyle.
I started to wonder what I could accomplish in a year. What individual growth would we both experience? Would the changes be more noticeable because we were thousands of miles apart? Eventually, instead of crumbling, I felt exhilarated by the possibilities. For many couples, distance sounds a death knell, but as we approached our final days together, my perspective had begun to switch from obsessing over the details of my relationship to examining myself.
As he packed his bags, I packed mine. We both took a step forward, even if in opposite directions. I moved into a studio in Los Angeles as he settled into an apartment in Himeji. Over FaceTime, we show each other our new homes. He sends me videos of the bus ride to work, or a friendly cat he met along the commute. I send him photos of impossible parking situations and the most incredible farmers’ markets, overflowing with produce. I have imagined him biking around the towering Himeji Castle and eating all sorts of mysterious Japanese cuisine.
We’ve shared intimate conversations, the kind that come easier with the comfort of great distance between two people. Together we unpack shared feelings of transition, of belonging and unbelonging. In unfamiliar places, it can seem like one’s insecurities are on full display and it's a relief to have someone who can relate. We are able to reflect on our individual personal growth without the subjectivity of living in close quarters together. While we weren't living dishonestly together, there’s less reservation now.
There are times when I will sink back into selfish thinking and I’ll wallow in self pity. I know there's side to me that longs for easy comfort and shies away from challenges, but the periods of time that were the most uncomfortable have lead to the most growth and insight. I know that I'll look back on this year as one of immense development, of change and adaptation.
Jeremy leaving for Japan was the best thing that could have happened to our relationship. The distance between us necessitates a little more effort on both sides, effort that is easily lost when our partners are nearby. The simplest conversations—no matter how menial—now take on a new meaning. We are independent and free to pursue our own careers and desires, yet we still make a conscious decision to be in each other’s lives. While I'm still figuring out how I define romantic love, this experience has taught me its important distinction from codependency, and for that I am eternally grateful.
For more from author/editor Taylor Haynes, check out Bunny Magazine